While there are many messaging apps that allow you to trade photos and text with ease, there aren’t too many that actually let you pass video messages back and forth, hassle-free. Some apps have tried in vain to tackle this, and failed.
That’s where Hoot comes in: It’s a simple Android-first video messaging app that allows you to send a friend or a group of friends a quick video message – anybody on the receiving side can quickly respond with a video of their own.
Developed by Christina Cacioppo and Matt Spitz, Hoot actually started out as an app that let you send photos to friends and when they looked at the photo, the app captures their reaction on video. After putting the early version of the app through beta-testing with their own acquaintances, they realized that nobody liked being secretly recorded (surprise?). They also found out that seeing people move onscreen was more compelling than seeing static images.
Here’s how Hoot works
In order to use Hoot, your phone must be on at least Android 4.0 and have a front-facing camera. After downloading the app, you are prompted to create a Hoot account by providing no more than a username, email, and password – it’s probably one of the rare times you don’t actually need a Facebook account to gain app access.
Once you’re in, you get to search for contacts, either by searching your phone directory for existing Hoot users, adding people who’ve already added you, or searching people by username (usernames are kept private by the app, so the only way you’ll know a friend’s username prior to adding them is if they tell you).
Once you’ve got friends on the app, you can start recording and sending out Hoots by either clicking on the video camera icon on the top-right corner of the screen or clicking on a contact’s avatar. Both will launch the Record Hoot function. Choose which camera you’d like to activate – back or front-facing – for recording then tap the button and keep your finger on it until you finish recording your clip. Once the recording is done, you will be given a chance to add an optional caption before sending or erasing the clip to record a new one.
Whenever you get a response for any of the Hoots you send out, a notification will appear. In fact, the notifications change depending on the amount of Hoots you get.
Every new Hoot you send will start a new conversation, and every conversation you have will appear in one page, which you can access by swiping left. When a contact sends in a response, a thumbnail from their recording will replace yours. You’ll also know if they’ve seen your Hoot if you see a small eye icon next to the timestamp.
One of the biggest problems when it comes to using a brand-new app is the lack of people to use it with. Once you log into Hoot for the first time, you automatically are friends with Hootini, a feature that was added post-launch that lets you send Hoots (like you would to a friend) and preview ones sent by people from different parts of the world. Think of it as the app’s Explore function. “When we started building Hootini’s window, we thought it might provide something for users who don’t yet have friends on Hoot,” Cacioppo explains. “But we’ve seen users return to [the app] and watch Hoots from the window daily. It’s also led us to think about the product differently: The magic of Hootini’s window comes from interacting with people you don’t know, rather than those you do.”
“It’s also been extraordinarily fun to catch slices of life in places we wouldn’t see normally. Iraq, Libya, and Myanmar are three of our most popular worldwide hoot countries,” adds Spitz.
Another unique thing about Hoot is that its creators – unlike most developers that prioritize designing iOS apps so there are fewer devices to troubleshoot – chose Android for initial development. “Android users are an underserved market. Few apps are Android-first, and many apps in the Play Store feel like afterthoughts compared to their iOS versions. We hoped – correctly, I think – that we’d make a larger impact in the Play Store,” says Cacioppo. To date, the app has had over 25,000 user downloads in the Android market, but since messaging apps aren’t single-user friendly by design – the more friends you have on an app platform, the more fun the experience becomes – the availability of an iOS version could be in Hoot’s near future.
Hoot vs. Snapchat
Hoot is coming into an industry that already has popular contenders, namely Snapchat. Although it’s true that video messaging is not a brand-new concept, Hoot provides features that are different enough to attract a certain type of demographic.
Hoot focuses on getting you quick responses to the messages you send – once you finish playing a message you’ve received, the app automatically activates the Record Hoot function, enticing you to keep the video repartee going.
Through Hoot, you can either send a message to one person or an entire group (and everybody on the thread receives all messages), whereas Snapchat only offers one-to-one messaging. “Snapchat allows you to send a snap to many people, but recipients can’t tell who else got the snap, which makes the whole experience less-personal,” Spitz observes.
And compared to Snapchat that allows both photo and video messages, you can only send out videos through Hoot. “This goes back to the feedback we received from our beta testers; as compelling as it was to see photos of our friends, it’s even better to see them move and talk in videos,” Cacioppo shares. Additionally, you can re-watch Hoots as many times as you like, while Snapchat messages disappear after a certain amount of time.
Of course, just like any service provider, Hoot has its own limitations, but depending on the person using the app, these can actually be more beneficial than cumbersome.
The first and most obvious limitation: Your phone’s specs. Like previously mentioned, having a front-facing camera is a requirement, as well as being on at least Android 4.0. So if you or your friends have an older Android phone, you may need to wait until Black Friday to purchase one that’s more up-to-date before you can enjoy Hoot.
In terms of video length, Hoot messages have time constraints: 10 seconds for Hoots sent to an individual or a group, and 7 seconds to Hootini’s window. While this may be a deal-breaker for people who like rambling on camera, it’s hardly an issue since there’s no limit to the number of videos you can shoot or send.
There’s no way to isolate the Hoots you’ve sent in one page. The only way you can see old videos is by diving into the conversations they appear in, provided that it’s one of the last 10 Hoots sent out, which is the number of videos that remain in the queue. “[The last 10 Hoots limit] we did in part for boring technical reasons,” Cacioppo shares. “But before we built out a bunch of video-retrieval and -storage, we wanted to see if people look for their old videos first. Turns out they don’t.”
Admittedly, there’s no fail-proof way to prevent someone from saving or downloading videos from any app – all it takes is another camera to record a currently playing video. But Hoot’s developers did what they can to restrict public media access. “Users can’t download Hoots easily. The video files are stored on the server, and those that we download to display aren’t accessible by the user,” Spitz states.
Hoot does a terrific job in both simplifying app navigation by eliminating unnecessary bells and whistles and enriching the quality of exchanges shared by people based in various locations. “Video messaging isn’t a new idea, but I think a combination of faster network connections, more phones with front-facing cameras, and more comfort with seeing yourself on camera make ‘now’ the time for a successful video messaging app,” says Cacioppo.
It also puts a focus on face-to-face – er, video face-to-video face interaction. “A short video says so much more than a text or even a photo; it’s the best way of sharing experiences with someone far away,” Spitz concludes. “Video calls are great when they work, but they’re difficult to coordinate and require fast, reliable Internet connections on both sides. We built Hoot to preserve the authenticity of face-to-face communication for friends and family around the world.”